I sat down to write a meaningful post based upon my past experience as a dairyman. But I found myself looking through the window in front of me, wanting to see the headlights of her car coming down the road.
For her, it’s just another busy day at the office. She hasn’t been gone that long (just a little over 14 hours), but some days that time seems like forever. At the close of those days, when the darkness of night settles in, the loneliness settles in as well, and the desire to see her safely arrive at home intensifies.
There won’t be much said when she gets home. She will be worn out. I’ll ask her how her day was and she’ll tell me as much as is permissible using professional terms and combinations of letters which I don’t understand. I’ll tell her some of the events of my day. She’ll eat a late supper while watching a TV program that I can barely hear or tolerate, and I will sit for a short time pretending to be interested in the program. Then I’ll head to bed to read for a short period while she enjoys some alone time.
Her homecoming is not emotional, exciting, challenging or engaging, but it’s something we both look forward to and have for 35 years. Our roles have changed over the years; I once was the one coming in from work. The number and ages of the characters have changed over the years; our three children now have homes of their own. But over the past 35 years, the thrill and anticipation of the nightly homecoming as only gotten sweeter.
I’m thankful for my momentary loneliness right now because it inspires me to cherish the beautiful, loving partner God has given me. I’m also tremendously thankful that the momentary loneliness is just that . . . momentary.
“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:10-12)
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (Proverbs 31:28)
The pasture field across the road and the holding lot to the milk barn each had one entrance gate. At one point in my milking career, each time I would put the cows across the road in the morning, one cow would stop short of the pasture gate. She would then begin walking outside the fence, parallel to the other cows. She thought she was in the field where she could enjoy the water and grass, but she was not. She could not enjoy the blessings of the pasture until she entered through the one gate.
At night, when I would herd the cows back to the milk barn, this same cow would meander down the road past the one entrance into the barn lot. Eventually she would realize that she was once again separated from the rest of the herd. At that point, she would look for another opening through which to enter the lot or another path by which she could reach the milk barn. However, the only way she could rejoin the herd and reach the intended destination was to enter through the one designated opening.
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. . . ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.’” (John 14:6; Acts 4:12)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
We can give it our best effort to reach and enter heaven through some other means than Jesus, but we will always fall short. There is no other way to reach the Father than through Jesus.
A couple of days ago, I was cleaning up a spill on the kitchen floor when I thought I saw a single drop of fresh blood mingled with the liquid. I looked at my hands and arms, but saw nothing. Later, I leaned back against a love seat while sitting on the floor with our granddaughter. I saw several blood stains on my jeans, so I began looking at my hands and arms again. Sure enough, on the back of my arm, just above the elbow, a red stream oozed from a small scratch. Further examination revealed an ugly, fist-sized splotch of blood covering a portion of the fabric on the love seat. Needless to say near panic set in, but a washcloth, cold water, and peroxide work wonders.
This is an almost every day event for a clumsy person who takes blood thinners.
Blood thinners are not for those who are queasy about seeing blood. Scratching the head off of the smallest pimple can release enough plasma to saturate a couple of paper towels and several Band-Aids. An accidental scrape which doesn’t even inflict noticeable pain can leave blood dripping onto any and every surface below it. Bed sheets, pillow casings, and the collars of favorite dress shirts are often spotted and stained through the mindless scratching of minor skin irritations.
People react to the sight of blood in various ways. Some faint. Some panic. Some become visibly sick and nauseated. Some turn away. Some seem unfazed. Some seem fascinated. But almost all are drawn to action to make the bleeding stop.
Why these varied, somewhat dramatic reactions? Because the life is in the blood. We know that a person can’t live if he loses too much blood. To many, even the smallest amount of blood loss appears significant and risky. So no matter how one reacts to the sight of blood, a sane person will try to find some way to make the bleeding stop.
When people hear the gospel and they see the blood of Jesus being shed on the cross for their sins, they experience the same variation of reactions. Some involuntarily lose spiritual consciousness as they try to avoid dealing with the reality that the blood was shed for their sins. Others intentionally turn away from the sight of the bleeding Savior as they too try to escape reality. Some panic. Some become physically, emotionally, or mentally ill as they are forced to face the sickness of their souls. Some seem to be unfazed. And some seem to be fascinated. But all who through faith’s eye can truly see Jesus bleeding on that cross want the bleeding to stop.
Yes, we know that we can’t stop the bleeding. We know that the Lamb of God voluntarily gave his life’s blood for us over 2000 years ago. We know that what is done is done, and it can’t be undone. We just wish that we personally had not played a role in the necessity for Jesus’ death.
No, we can’t stop the bleeding, but we can cherish the loving Savior who was willing to shed the blood; and we can treasure the saving power of the blood; and we can do our part to make sure that Christ did not shed his blood in vain. We can allow ourselves to be redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:17-25). We can vow never to crucify Jesus afresh in our lives (Hebrews 6:4-6). We can vow never to intentionally look away from the blood that was shed for our sins (Hebrews 12:1-2).
“In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:14)
“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16)
Some people call them March lilies. Some call them daffodils. Some call them buttercups. In this area of the country, one can spot small patches of these delightful blooms in tended flower gardens near inhabited houses, in roadside ditches fronting old abandoned homesteads, and in the middle of grazed pasture fields. Their emergence is a sign that spring is just around the corner. Yes, blackberry, dogwood, stump, and linen britches winters will still bring the possibility of blowing snow, but the appearance of the March lilies signals that the hope of spring will soon be realized.
In addition to the hope of the future, March lilies also remind us of the joy of the past. Since March lilies have traditionally been a cultivated flower, and most beds were originally set out near a homestead, the scattered patches generally signify that a house once stood nearby. The structure may have long ago deteriorated and been destroyed, but the delightful blooms form a reminder that a family once romped and played around a home as they anticipated the hope of spring.
Spiritually, what can we leave behind which will regularly bloom so that others will remember that we lived? What can we plant in the world around us so that our descendants and their peers may find hope and joy due to our having walked this earth?
A few biblical suggestions:
A sacrificial life based upon an unfailing love for the Savior as was exhibited by the woman with the alabaster box and the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. (Matthew 26:6-13, Luke 7:36-50)
A faith filled life through which we are willing to offer the noble sacrifice of obedience like Abel. (Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12)
A service oriented life like that of Tabitha. (Acts 9:36-43)
A family which we have reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
If we leave these types of legacies behind us, our seeds and roots of faith will continue to regularly sprout and bloom. Though we are dead, yet we will speak to those who come after us. Through our legacy, we will encourage others to have a hope for the future based upon the joy we found in living in the house of the Father.
I’ve told this to myself and others many times over the years. I’ve always admitted to liking puppies, and even today I would willingly lie down on the ground to allow a litter of playful puppies to joyfully topple over me. But grown dogs have always been a different story; especially one dog; a black and tan coon hound named Nina.
Nina rode in on the back of a truck one day about 15 years ago. My grandmother lived across the road. One of Granny’s caretakers had stopped to fill up her truck with gasoline, and unbeknownst to her, Nina had hitched a ride to our farm. Mama immediately adopted Nina, and an unspoken friendship and loyalty quickly developed.
For several years, three or four mornings per week, Mama would drive up the road about a half-mile to the home of Mrs. Lora, an elderly lady for whom Mama provided care. Each morning, Nina would faithfully follow Mama’s van up the road to Mrs. Lora’s where she would stay until Mama returned home. Mrs. Lora developed a strong attachment to Nina as well. She seemed to look forward to Nina’s visits as much or more so than Mama’s. Mrs. Lora would save food scraps from each meal, making sure that only Nina received them.
During those first few years, when Mama returned, we could expect Nina to arrive home within a couple of minutes, but as the years wore on, the time span between the arrivals became increasingly lengthy; a few minutes became 10 and then 15. Nina was definitely slowing down and the arthritis in her hips was taking its toll.
My feelings for this black and tan were just the opposite. “I hated that dog!”
I did enjoy watching her ply her trade when she first came to the farm. Nina had apparently received some training in treeing raccoons. I would often see her disappear into my dark milkroom just as I pulled up to the barn to begin the morning’s milking, and I could hear her “cleaning house” as I got out of the truck. In just a few minutes, I could hear her lonesome, eerie baying speedily descending the pasture field hills as she chased the little thieves that had invaded my milkroom back to the trees.
I found it amusing to observe her watching my son’s beagle hounds as they tracked rabbits. At first she couldn’t figure out what they were doing, but then she began to give in to peer pressure, and she too began chasing rabbits. Nina eventually became as good or better a rabbit dog than the beagles were.
What was my problem with Nina? On several occasions, just as I was about to herd my cows into the holding pen in order to milk them, she let out a loud bark from within the holding pen or just on the other side of it. Each time, the terrified cows bolted and stampeded back down the hill, refusing to return to the barn for several minutes. There was nothing I could do to persuade them that the ghostly howl had come from a friend and not a source of danger . . . and there was nothing I could do to keep Nina from causing the same chaos again.
I hated that dog . . . or so I told myself.
One day, about 4 years ago, I told Mama that I was scheduling the vet to come to the farm to treat a cow. Mama told me that she had decided to have Nina put down. I agreed with her decision, seeing as how Nina could barely get out of her bed each morning. She was rapidly loosing weight, and constantly shivered no matter how much heat was provided. Mama told me she didn’t want to be present when it was done, and just requested that I bury Nina in our unofficial pet cemetery in the woods.
When I approached her, I really expected Nina to rise up from her bed, bark as if I were a stranger, and attempt to flee, because we had only tolerated each other for several years. Instead, she humbly placed her head under my outstretched hand, and allowed me to hold her as if it were an everyday occurrence. As the vet inserted the IV and began administering the chemicals, she took it calmly and slowly closed her eyes, laying her head over onto my arm. Then something happened that had never happened before. I’ve helped put down many animals through the years on our farm, from newborn calves, to the best old pet cows that one could own, but I had never shed a tear. This time, the tears flowed. Why? I have no idea. When the vet told me that he needed to retrieve a stethoscope from his truck in order to make sure she was gone, all I could do was silently mouth an, “Okay,” and I stayed and held her the whole time he was gone.
My guess is that we all have had someone in our life that we thought we “hated”. Maybe it was a friend of a mutual friend who seemed to be competing for and winning the affection of our BFF. Outwardly, we tolerated the presence of our rival, but inwardly, we convinced ourselves that we “hated” the person. Maybe it was a coworker or peer who constantly received accolades, promotions, and awards. We regularly associated with them with the ulterior motive of bettering our own status in some small way, but secretly we “hated” the person. Then one day, that person left; not with the possibility of returning, but with finality; and our tears inexplicably flowed.
We had convinced ourselves that we “hated” that unlovable person. We tried to convince others that we only tolerated them. Yet somewhere in the process of time and familiarity, we had developed a love that could not be realized nor appreciated until we experienced, “Goodbye.”
“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9)
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
Have you ever stopped to ponder the amount of food we consume just because it is expected or we feel obligated?
A wife, daughter, mother, or grandmother thoughtfully, but unexpectedly, prepares a big meal so we eat with them even though we’ve just consumed a fairly good sized brunch. We take a spoonful or two from an untouched dish at a potluck in order to keep someone from getting her/his feelings hurt. We eat a second breakfast when a co-worker spontaneously brings doughnuts in an effort to get everyone’s morning off to a good start.
We are a guest at a club meeting where someone has worked hard to coordinate a luncheon, so we eat a second lunch. At an all-you-care-to-eat buffet, we go back for seconds in order to get our money’s worth. We finish off our spouse’s or children’s plate so food won’t be wasted.
We cram 3 meals into an eight hour day because it is tradition or we eat 5 small portioned “mealettes” because we’ve read that eating smaller portions more frequently helps to loose weight. Sometimes we just eat because we have a reputation for having a hardy appetite and we don’t want to lose face.
We are so blessed in this country with an abundance of delicious, nutritious food. Sometimes the abundance becomes a curse since many of us have difficulty saying, “No, thank you.” Often, our excessive eating leads to obesity.
Spiritually, the delicious, nutritious food of God’s Word abounds just as plentifully in our country. Scripture is just a click away on that high tech device found in the pockets of most Americans. Others can easily access God’s recipe for salvation and happiness in hard copies found in their homes. The good news is that excessive consumption of this spiritual food leads to better spiritual health rather than obesity, even if it is consumed more out of guilt, expectation, or obligation.
Today, and every day, when it comes to God’s Word, eat all you want, as many times as you want. And don’t feel the slightest pangs of guilt because scripture was nutritiously formulated to be abundantly consumed.
“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:7-14)
“We’ll trust your vetting skills, and work with you however we can.” These words were recently spoken to me by the owner of a small family-operated hotel. I had contacted him because the church was trying to help a family relocate. The above statement was his response when I expressed concern that we had never met the family, so we did not know the level of their reliability and responsibility in respecting and caring for other people’s property.
Anyone who listens to national news broadcasts will hear the terms “vet” and “vetting” used quite frequently. These terms mean to make a careful and critical examination of something. I had never considered the process of determining whether or not the church can honor a family’s request as being vetting. Once the hotel owner inadvertently pointed up the fact, I developed a whole new respect for those who are charged with the weighty responsibility of vetting government assistance applicants, investigating social and family services cases, and vetting refugees who are hoping to migrate to the U.S.
When vetting, there is no way to know for sure if you are being given all the pertinent facts. Many times, all you can do is take the applicants word for it. The person requesting assistance may or may not be telling you the truth about health conditions, family relations, living conditions, the circumstances that brought them into their current living conditions, etc. In an interview, the interviewee will invariably try to sell you on the urgency of the need. As he does so, he will often reveal conflicting details and stories. However, there is no way to tell if he is purposely lying or if the variations are the result of his being extremely anxious because he feels the family’s welfare depends upon his salesmanship.
Often, the only option available to the individual who is vetting the request is to trust his own visual observations and his gut instincts.
At times, there is only one person in a family of several adults who truly needs help. This family member may suffer from major health issues or be disabled in some way. The other adults could be employed. They could be combining their incomes to provide a decent living for the family unit. But the healthy members are riding on the coattails of the disabled member; they are constantly highlighting the unhealthy member’s weaknesses in order to gain sympathy and thus pull in contributions from sympathetic individuals and groups.
In this case, the person vetting the request must make a choice between giving the truly needful person the assistance he ought to have, and in doing so, enabling the other family members to continue their leaching; or denying the healthy family members the assistance they have requested under false pretenses, but in so doing denying the legitimately needful member the assistance he ought to have.
Either way, the decision maker loses.
Vetting is easy, as long as you’ve never done it; as long as you have never had to look into someone’s eyes while you are determining their fate. But once you’ve experienced the gut wrenching task of saying, “I’m sorry, but we’ve done all we can do. We just can’t help you anymore,” you’ll never again make the mistake of criticizing anyone who accepts this grave responsibility.
The parable of the Good Samaritan ends, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-37). May we heed this command.
Calving time is a time of extremely mixed emotions for a dairyman. This is especially true when the expectant mother is a first calf heifer. The dairyman has invested countless hours and much effort over the last two years rearing this young female. He’s seen her grow from a wet newborn which could barely take a breath into a strong, healthy, beautiful young bovine.
It’s a time of joyful anticipation, but it is also a time of exhausting anxiousness, because the dairyman knows that giving birth to her first offspring can quickly turn into a crippling and even life-threatening experience for both mother and calf in a matter of minutes. So every day, the dairyman watches and waits. He checks on the expectant mother multiple times during both the day and the night hours, especially as the time for delivery draws near.
Then early one morning, about 2:00 AM, the dairyman shines the flashlight into the fenced lot where the heifer had been just about 4 hours before, and she is gone. Everything had appeared fine at 10:00 PM, but now everything had the potential for tragedy. Even though the young heifer had seemed very content with her accommodations over the past couple of weeks, for some reason, she did not feel comfortable giving birth there. So when the first pains hit her, she jumped the fence, and wondered away.
The dairyman searched for her as best he could in the darkness of the moonless night. He checked all the places he could think of that she may have gone to hide and find seclusion, but it was to no avail. So he went back home and waited for daylight.
When morning came, he found the heifer across the road bedded down in a wooded thicket. She had given birth. Her weaknesses and unsteadiness indicated that it had been a long and tiring process. The calf did not survive the stress of the labor. As the heifer stood up and looked at her stillborn calf, the dairyman’s heart bled for her, but there was nothing that could change the outcome. Had she stayed in the lot, he might have helped her successfully deliver, but all the “if she hads” and “might have beens” could never change what was. All he could do was give her time to deal with her loss and then help her get on with life.
As parents, we want what’s best for our kids. We protect them, feed them, and provide as much comfort as we can. We try our best to guide them in discerning between what’s best, what’s risky, and what’s definitely damaging. When certain milestones approach, especially those which can make or break a young person’s faith and life, we joyfully anticipate watching our child spread her wings to fly; but we also anxiously monitor her use of her freedom, because we know that her experiencing this milestone can easily turn crippling or even life threatening in a matter of minutes.
Then one day, for many parents, their worst nightmare comes true when they go to check on their child, and he is gone. The child became discontent with his surroundings so he jumped the fence and wandered away. Try as they may to find their loved one, the search is futile.
Sometimes these life altering decisions have a happy ending; the child is found or she returns home without any major physical, emotional, or spiritual injuries.
But many times, the loved one returns scarred by the unexpected outcome of his/her choice to jump the fence. At that time, a parent can stand, wagging his finger and throwing all kinds of “if onlys” and “this would not have happeneds” in the child’s face; or he can let his heart go out to his loved one. He can help her mourn for her loss. He can help him pick up the pieces. And he can be there to help his child go on with life.
That’s the story of the prodigal son. That’s the story of us and of God’s love for us when we are found. And that’s the story of our love for others, especially our own flesh and blood. (Luke 15:11-32)
Our dairy farm was in operation for 50 years or more. A few years back, after I’d successfully helped a cow deliver her calf, I began to think about how many “thousands” of times that same scene must have played out on that farm. But then I calculated an estimated total and it wasn’t nearly as large a number as I imagined.
If you figure on average 60 calves being born per year for 50 years, that’s just 3,000 calves. Three thousand born in 50 years. Many mega-dairies have that many born in one year, and some in as little as 3 months.
When I compared those figures, that didn’t sound like my family and I accomplished much during our time of dairying. On the other hand, when I thought about the milk that we produced and made available to growing families, it put things in a little better perspective.
During that same 50 years, the cows my parents and I milked produced about 200 gallons of milk per day, every day, seven days per week. If an average family consumed one gallon of milk per day (all dairy products included), then we met the dairy needs of 200 families for 50 years.
That’s not bad for a small family farm.
Perspective means everything.
A teacher may never play a role in educating a president, but she may be instrumental in educating thousands of responsible citizens who provide for themselves and their families, as well as better their communities through service.
A doctor or nurse may never treat or cure a high profile case about which an article is published in a major medical journal, but she may provide the exact care needed by thousands of average people during a time when each of them needed care and comfort in order to continue living in this world.
A counselor may never develop a 12 step program which becomes internationally known as a standard for overcoming addictions, but he may help a few hundred emotionally distraught individuals come to grips with the realities of life.
A preacher may preach the gospel for 50 years, never once preaching a dynamic, life changing sermon before a televised audience of millions, but he may help the 200 souls who attend his home congregation throughout those years to be faithful to Jesus until each one goes to their heavenly reward.
I realize that those mega-dairies produce more milk in one year than we did in 50 years, but that’s not what counts. No, my family and I may not have made a difference in the lives of thousands of people, but we did help 200 families put a nutritious meal on the table each day, 365 days per year, for 50 years.
We did what we could and that’s what counts.
“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6)
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)
She: “I need you to pick up some apples from the store.”
He (thinking silently in his mind): Apples. Peeling apples. Peeling apples in one big long strand. Grandmama was good at that. I miss her and Granddaddy. I miss fishing with Granddaddy. We always had to dig for fishing worms. I remember several times picking up apples that had worms in them. On one episode of Law and Order: SVU a serial killer wrote in his diary that he had to “pick up the worm in the Big Apple.” Serial sounds like cereal. We used to mix applesauce in the kids’ cereal. I sure miss the days when our children were kids. All of our children played ball. I played ball. I can remember my coach yelling, “Hit that old apple. . . . (still thinking silently in his mind) . . . now what was she talking about?”
She: “I’m going to make an apple pie for the potluck tomorrow night, and I need you to pick up a couple of specific kinds of apples . . .”
He (once again in his mind): “Oh, yes. Apples. She needs 5 Gala apples and 3 McIntosh. That sounds like an elementary math problem. If Mary had 10 apples and gave away 2, how many apples would Mary have left? Eight. Eight sounds like ate. Some people believe that Adam and Eve ate an apple. It was really just some type of a fruit. We don’t know for sure what kind of fruit it was. Eve and that fruit! What was that girl’s name that played Jan Brady on the Brady bunch? Her first name was Eve and her last one was some kind of fruit. Eve Plumb, that was it. She was pretty, especially when she grew up . . . and those weren’t apples she was carrying around either. Aw man! Why did I think that? Dear God, I’m sorry for those thoughts. I’ll do my best to keep from thinking those types of thoughts . . .”
She: “Are you listening to me? What did I just say?”
He (aloud, having been jarred back to reality): “Uhhhhh? You need me to pick up some plumbs to make plumb pudding for tomorrow night’s fellowship!??”
We may not be able to keep our minds from wandering, nor can we necessarily determine the pathway they take, but we can control whether or not we allow our minds to linger at impure rest stops.
“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-27)